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Phil Spector: The Rolling Stone Interview

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What stops the Everly Brothers?
They'll get lucky like Dion did. Dion put out a lot of records that didn't mean anything. They'll get lucky.

What do you think accounts for the Everly Brothers and Fats Domino . . . and they're both on the same label. And fats makes a really respectable record.
You mean the album?

Yeah, Fats Is Back. Why can't the Everly Brothers do it like that? What's the difference between them as artists?
I don't know. You see, to me, Fats Is Back wasn't any better than any of Fats' old albums. If you're gonna bring Fats back, you gotta bring him back better or you can't bring him back. That's why they never should have put those greatten or nine old records with little blurps of each one, at the beginning, cause it really makes you want to hear the old record rather than the new gib-gab that that guy cut–whatever guy makes Tim's records, Tiny Tim. Now, I mean I'm willing to bet that Rolling Stone gave that an A plus rating and that they gave him genuine credit for a superb production on that record. I'm willing to bet on it.

You win.
Everything else was nice, but other than the two Beatle tunes, I mean it was like old Fats Domino again, but it did show one thing–that the Beatles are hit songwriters by anybody. If they had written "Lady Madonna" for Fats he would have had a number one record. It was nice to hear him on the radio again. I'll say that. It was good to hear Fats on the radio again. I just wish he could have been heard more for a longer period of time, but yeah, it was a respectable album. It was respectable. That's such a common word. My school teacher was respectable. It doesn't mean much.

Do you judge art in terms of success?
Art is relative. Because everything and anything can be art. It's just a matter of taste. Warner Brothers has an idea of art. . . . Their art was bringing back Fats Domino. They didn't do it, so they fucked up. John Lennon's got a different approach to art–so he puts out "Do It In The Streets" and that's groovy, that's his terms. So, art is relative. Each person has their own interpretation of art.

What I'm asking is if you are evaluating the record in terms of success.
I'm evaluating it in terms of what their goal was. Warner Brothers' goal was to bring Fats back, and they didn't. So in that area, they failed. Did they make a great record? No, they didn't. I could make giant records with Fats.

What's the effect of drugs been upon you? Have they had an effect on your music?
I haven't made any music since that whole drug thing started.

Do you think it will?
Well, the listening audience will be affected by it. I mean, I've gotten a lot of letters and a lot of people said they've listened to "River Deep" stoned, and they had the ear phones on, and they just freaked out, you know, with the sound. Well, you know nobody was stoned when they made the record, I can tell you that.

David Susskind once said that rock and roll records are out of tune. Was he stoned? Well, I've never used anybody but Barney Kessel and those kind of guys, the best musicians, they don't know how to play out of tune!

So you can get a tag–psychedelic or drugs. I don't know, maybe drugs will affect my music. Drugs tend to frighten me a little in an audience because it doesn't make for good hearing and concentration. Now I'd hate like hell to have an incoherent jury listening to me, when I'm tryin' to plead a case . . . just spaced out. I'd get frightened. Just like I hate to bet on a fighter or horse that's drugged. That's scary. I don't give a fuck what they do in their own time, but if a disc jockey is going to review my record, and he's stoned, well, you know, he can go either way. It depends on how good the stuff he took was, and he's gonna either love my record or hate my record. But I mean, you shouldn't be judged that way. In fact–art can't and shouldn't be judged at all! Because it's all a matter of taste.

What do you think the difference is going to be between the audience today and the audience's reaction to music today, as compared to five years ago?
I don't know. Everybody's a helluva lot hipper today, I'll tell you that. There's 13-year-old whores walkin' the streets now. It wouldn't have happened as much five years ago. Not 13-year-old drug addicts. It's a lot different today. I tell you the whole world is a drop-out. I mean, everybody's a fuck-off. Everybody's mini-skirted, everybody's hip, everybody reads all the books. How in the hell you gonna overcome all that? Sophistication, hippness, everything. They're really very hip today.

The music business is so different than any other business. You know, Frank Sinatra has a hit. Sister Dominique or whatever her name is, has a hit. I can show you six groups out there today who are opposite. I mean the Archies have a hit at the same time the Beatles do, so it really doesn't mean anything.

Now who's buyin' the Archies' records? That's what I can't understand, and who bought all the Monkees' records–same cats who bought all the Stones records? If they're not, then that makes the buyin' public so big . . . ' Cause the four million that bought the Monkees and the six million that bought the Beatles are different, then there's 10 million kids buying records. That's a helluva lot of a better throw at the dice. I'd rather have a chance out of 10 million times instead of six million times, so. it probably will be easier.

How are you cutting with the Check Mates?
I don't know yet. All different ways. Very commercial records. Good records. Easy records. Soulful records. Some have depth, some don't have. . . .

Does it worry you at all, that there's been a change?
Well, anything that deteriorates music bothers me a little bit. I mean, if when Beethoven lost his hearing, if I was alive, it would have bothered me. I have to be affected by it. It bothers me that some music is very boring. I hear a lot of disc jockeys saying "Let's throw this shit out." I hear them saying there are so many fucking groups–so boring. I hear this so much, that I believe it. If it's true then yeah, it bothers me. It bothers me enough to get back in.

You're not worried that you won't be able to make the change?
If anybody's going to have to worry, they're going to have to worry. Not me, 'cause I'm comin' back! You know, I don't know if there has been a change, because if six million kids still buy the Monkees,' then there hasn't been a change. They're the same six million that bought honky records five years ago.

The only real difference there is in the record industry is in black music. That's the big difference. But I don't consider Motown black; I consider them half and half. Black people making white music. The Monotones, the Drifters, the Shirrelles, Fats . . . I mean, all those artists, not making it and around anymore. That's a big debt. But maybe it's only because nobody's doing it. We'll find out soonenough anyway.

This story is from the November 1st, 1969 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“American Girl”

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | 1976

It turns out that a single with "American" in its title--recorded on the Fourth of July during the nation's Bicentennial, no less--can actually sell better in Britain. Coupled with the Heartbreakers' flair for Byrds jangle and Animals hooks, though, is Tom Petty's native-Florida drawl that keeps this classic grounded at home. Petty dispelled rumors that the song was about a suicidal student, explaining that the inspiration came from when he was 25 and used to salute the highway traffic outside his apartment window. "It sounded like the ocean to me," he recalled. "That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by."

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